Darius's church, Paris, 1967 AD
"More wine, Lady Rebecca?" the boy in robes asked.
"Yes, please." He filled her glass and went to the corner, to change burned out incense sticks. Rebecca smiled sympathetically. Poor kid, he must be having a huge headache from all their Quickenings together in a small room. Not to mention the awe of being near four legendary Immortals… At least he believed her to be the oldest among the present, thinking that Methos was Remus, Marcus's friend from Rome.
The boy himself was Darius's latest apprentice, and most likely he was trying to figure out 'the very important reason' for that meeting. Well, disappointment waited for him there.
Truth was, there was no special occasion for this little get-together, aside from the fact the three of them were passing through Paris at the same time. And Darius' church was always a good place to visit when one found himself at crossroads… Rebecca lifted her glass and sipped a little. On the other hand, the wine from the priest's cellar was very attractive, too. Rebecca's gaze slowly drifted to the other corner. There Darius and Marcus had just begun a game of ancient chess, with Methos leaning over and commenting on every move. Both generals managed to ignore him completely (a skill she admired greatly), instead continuing the discussion of the latest war in Israel.
A strong scent reached her nose; the boy must have picked a new type of incense. A second later she recognized it, once favorite but long since forgotten… And, together with topic of conversation nearby, it sent her mind to another time and place…
Toledo, Spain, circa 750 AD
A fair-haired Immortal, currently known as Rebecca of Horne, lighted the incense and inhaled the scent deeply. Another habit she inherited from her late husband, together with his library and the house.
"My lady?" a voice came from the door.
"A Jewish officer has come, my lady. He asks for a meeting with you."
"Let him wait a little. Then lead him in."
"Yes, my lady."
Rebecca was not surprised, she'd actually expected someone from the Jewish community, since the library contented some old texts in Hebrew. An officer was strange, though; but maybe he was just more willing to talk with a Gentile then the men of the Law. For, despite the Hebrew origins of her alias, officially Rebecca was a Muslim here; what and who she believed in unofficially was no one's business but hers.
An Immortal Presence alerted Rebecca from her thoughts; this was becoming interesting. She opened the curtain; drawn for the sake of decency, made sure her sword was in a moment's reach and looked towards the door. A man entered – small height, black hair, brown eyes…
"Jesse of Judea," she whispered unbelievingly.
A cautious expression on the visitor's face was changed to a stunned one, which, in its turn, vanished in relief and joy.
"My lady," he bowed deeply. Rebecca quickly came close and touched his shoulder, urging him to draw himself up and then delayed her hand on his cheek, allowing the memories to fly through her mind.
A begging boy on the streets of Jerusalem, in filthy clothes, but with shining eyes and pre-Immortal tune... A polite youth, delivering fresh baked bread to their estate, telling her the legend of Passover... She listened, enchanted, making mental notes to ask both Methos and Tak-Ne what Egyptian legends and history had to say on the matter... A young man, struggling to build his own business and family, knifed in a night fight... Years of training on the estate - sword lessons, reading books besides the Torah, studying places besides Judea... An Immortal, ready to be on his own. Jesse had been the first student she'd given a piece of the Crystal to, and had never regretted it. She could see that he still wore it, covered by the cloth.
"It's good to see you alive, Jesse," she reluctantly put her hand away, reminding herself he was no longer a boy, or even a new Immortal. More than seven centuries - not many reached this age, and, judging by his Quickening, he'd had his share of challenges, not to mention mortal wars. "It is Jesse here, is it?"
"It is, my lady Rebecca," he stressed the name, acknowledging her alias. "Jesse ben David. It is a miracle to meet you here, my lady; a miracle I scarcely allowed myself to hope for."
She smiled sadly.
"Miracles still happen sometimes, Jesse. But I think you have come here for a reason today; maybe we should discuss it now, and leave more personal matters to another time and place. Where we will not be disturbed or rise unnecessary rumors."
Time flew by, and Jesse and Rebecca met regularly, both openly and not. Jesse was one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Toledo, while Rebecca had some influence in the authority circles. Of course, there were those who loathed the idea of an independent woman running a library, but generally she was liked and respected. And Rebecca didn't hesitate to use it to help Jesse and his people, when she found it necessary. More personal things were discussed in private, when there were no danger of being overheard; former teacher and student renewed their friendship, this time on more equal terms, though Jesse never completely lost his obeisance. They had seven passed centuries of traveling to talk about, and not only out of friendly interest in each other. For Immortals, knowledge of the world was as necessary for survival as sword skill, and the world was changing rapidly around them. New countries rose where the Empire once had been, new peoples had come, new languages to speak and new traditions to be wary of. New players in the Game, dangerous and not, Sanctuaries, built and destroyed… They had a lot to tell each other.
This day Jesse was too serious, even sad, and that worried Rebecca, because she couldn't see the reason. Of course, he had been challenged last week, but it had been an easy fight. More, the day before Jesse finally (with a little help from her) obtained another permission for his community from the rule, and a very important one… He should be content, not sad; but something clearly bothered him and Rebecca wanted to know what it was.
"So, my friend, how did they react to the permission?"
"With joy," he said with something like sarcasm in his voice, which surprised Rebecca even more. "The elders say the era of Jewish prosperity has begun."
"And why does it sadden you?"
"We both know it will not last. In a century or two the persecutions will start again."
"Nothing lasts in this world, Jesse. But you are doing whatever you can for your people. "
"For surviving – yes. But it is not enough, my lady. This land is kind and fair, but our home is elsewhere. "
Rebecca suddenly understood.
"You want your people to return to Judea," she stated.
"My lady, I saw the Temple still standing. I know we must return there. Maybe not tomorrow, but someday. Messiah will not come if we do nothing."
"Surviving as a people, keeping faith, language and traditions is not nothing, Jesse. It is not easy without a homeland, believe me."
"I know, Rebecca. But… They were born here, and their parents too, it's easy for them to forget Judea…"
"Knowing you, my friend," she smiled gently, "you are already doing something about that."
He smiled in response, acknowledging his teacher's insight.
"You are right, I do. A small secret society exists among Toledo community…"
"They know about you?"
He nodded: "Yes. Not everything, but enough."
"So what is really bothering you?"
He shrugged again.
"That fight last week… It made me think."
"Yes, but the next one could be stronger or luckier. The Game is the Game."
"You don't trust your mortal followers?"
"It's not that, Rebecca. I think I just want a student. Of our kind, of my people. Someone who will share my purpose and take my place, if anything."
Rebecca smiled sadly. A lot of Immortals with different Great Purposes had a similar desire, very few had it fulfilled. Of course, Jesse had already had several students, he told her about them, but of those who might be still alive… The Celtic priestess from Britain had her own people and culture to defend, and a wandering minstrel and cheat just wasn't shaped for any great purpose.
Rebecca sighed, trying to sort out her feelings about Jesse's words. There were no obligations between them; she had taught him, he had made her proud - they were even. And she hadn't been Roman enough to feel guilty or responsible for the destruction of the Temple or for the Exile. And yet… She, too, had been there, had lived in Jerusalem and seen the Temple standing. Religions, now dividing the world, could be born only there. And Jesse was right.
She reached her hand and squeezed his shoulder slightly.
"You'll live to see your people at the foot of Zion again, Jesse. But if anything – I shall help."
He met her eyes for a moment, and then nodded slowly, accepting her promise.
Two more years had passed; Rebecca started to look close at the young men coming to the library. She would have to move on soon, and she intended to leave the library to Toledo, as soon as she could find a worthy successor. Of course, the copies of several of the most interesting scrolls would replenish her own collection, now safely hidden in her castle in France. The last months were a little disturbed in Toledo; tension had risen again between the Arabian rulers and the Christian community. A few minor attacks from outside had happened lately, too, but Rebecca didn't thought it was something serious.
"A young Jewish officer is here to see you."
"Lead him in," she answered, perplexed. All her servants knew Jesse by sight, and if someone else was visiting her…
David ben Abraham entered. He was sort of Jesse's squire, and no doubt knew about his Immortality. Seeing his face, Rebecca felt her heart sink. It is not possible, she told herself, there was no lightning in the area, it couldn't be happening! But David silently opened his palm, and a bloodied piece of the Crystal lied there. She grasped for breath, came close in quick pace and touched the piece, still not fully believing in what had happened. David began to talk in a quiet and emotionless voice:
"There was a man among the attackers with golden hair, huge like a Goliath, with a two-handed sword. We got him with our spears afterwards, but it was too late."
Rebecca took the crystal and squeezed it tightly. It wasn't right, it wasn't fair. Life never was fair, but this… An Immortal warrior, who had seen more than seven centuries, took dozens of heads, survived both Jewish Revolts and the Fall of Rome… Killed in a battle of mortals, that was not even his! Just a minor fight between Moors and Christians…
"The funeral will be at dawn at our cemetery," David continued. "We will gather afterwards. Jesse would want you to be there."
With that, he bowed slightly and left.
Rebecca observed the funeral ceremony from a distance, not to embarrass the community. It was obvious that Jesse had been loved, respected and valued among people he had devoted his life to. If anything, it made his loss even more painful. The ceremony ended with due prayers, the women and then the men broke up. Going past her David invited her to follow with a slight nod. Time to fulfill her promise.
By the end of the night a treaty was concluded between Immortal Rebecca Horne and the small unnamed society of Toledian Jews. And this way a temporary alias became her new name, replacing the Greek one.
Paris, 1967 AD
Rebecca sighed, fidgeting with her crystal. Centuries had passed and men, and rarely women, had come to her with secret words and signs. She had helped, when she could, with money or influence, had given sanctuary, raised a few orphaned children, helped to establish the first Jewish settlements in Palestine, after Jews had been banned from Spain and Jesse's society had become a part of the Zionist movement… Two of her mortal husbands she'd found among Jesse's followers. Last time she'd been contacted was during the War; she didn't know if the society still existed. Now, when the State of Israel was independent, acknowledged and standing on both feet, despite all its troubles, Jesse's purpose was fulfilled. And her obligations to him were over. Rebecca smiled, suddenly realizing that now she was free to change her name again, maybe return to Greek origins… But she wasn't sure she wanted to, she had gotten used to it. Besides, the outside world, except for old Watcher's archives and two people, present in this room, knew her only as Rebecca… Most likely, she wouldn't let the name go. Like she hadn't been able to give Jesse's piece of the Crystal to someone else, leaving it to herself in the end. Sometimes she felt that the Quickening of her beloved student was somehow preserved there…
"Penny for your thoughts, my lady?" Methos voice had startled her; it was strange to find him sitting closely, across the small table, with that trademark half-smile of his.
"Nothing serious, my friend. Just names and obligations," she answered, hiding the crystal back among her clothes.
"In past, present or future?"
"Past. The distant one." She raised her glass and emptied it quickly, hoping the wine, together with Jesse's ghost, would keep at bay the most recent one.
"I see." He kept silence for a while, and then said casually, looking elsewhere: "It's been too long."
Rebecca put her glass back, contemplating the hidden offer. Actually, a long lazy 'honeymoon' with Methos would be good for her now; he sure knew how to deal with unwanted memories. Of course, a season of mischief with Amanda might be even better, but the Lady Thief was in the States now, involved in something long-term. And Rebecca had had enough of both American continents for at least a century. Jesse's ghost must be still lingering nearby, because she heard herself saying:
"Yes… It's been too long since I saw the treasures of Spain…"
"Treasures of Spain?" he asked. "Cordoba and its libraries, Seville and its minstrels, Toledo and its swords?"
"A little of each, and the rest, too," she answered, already feeling better. They had never been in Spain together; it would be interesting to compare the experiences. And create a common one.
"Can you arrange that?"
"In a week, my lady."
She nodded, sealing the agreement.
Methos extracted a bottle of old Spanish red, seemingly from nowhere, and filled both their glasses.
"Well," he raised his glass and asked, half-teasing, "to Spain and the past?"
"No. To Spain and the future."